Monday, April 28, 2014

Tornadoes: When Mother Nature Gets Nasty

After living in Houston for many years, I thought moving to Arkansas would mean an end to worrying about hurricanes and violent weather. Wrong. Arkansas experiences tornadoes along with other tornado alley states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. See map.

Last night in Little Rock, the tornado sirens went off and on for over an hour. I ate dinner on a tray in the guest bathroom (no windows). Ugh! I did carry cushions from the sofa in there to make it a bit more cozy. Thankfully, the steep hill behind our street is a natural barrier to a lot of crazy bad weather.

Folks just 8 miles to the north in Mayflower and Maumelle, AR got the brunt of the tornado's fury. (The strength of a tornado is based on the Fujita Scale.) 

Watch this news video on the devastation. To add insult to injury, the same area got hit in April 2011 nearly to the day. Some people are looking at rebuilding homes that were just rebuilt. Awful!

So there are lots of folks "in harm's way" that need to pay attention when tornado sirens blare. An article in The Atlantic explains how tornadoes are predicted, rated (by wind strength), and tracked. It also explains that a person has roughly 13 minutes average lead time upon notification to find shelter.

All I can say is pay attention, take shelter when the sirens sound and treat violent weather with respect. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hard Drive or The Cloud or Quantum Computing?

Tonight the Science cafe topic is Hard Drive vs. The Cloud. Our panelists will be discussing how computers save personal, public and encrypted data. Since I have limited knowledge in this area, I'm looking forward to learning more. 

And what about beyond The Cloud? Are we now or will we ever be able to save or manipulate data in even more amazing ways? It's possible. What about Quantum Computing?

Huh? What is a quantum computer anyway? Well, instead of using silicon-based transistors, a quantum computer takes advantage of quantum-mechanical actions, such as superposition and entanglement, to manipulate data. Digital computers need data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), which are in one of two states (0 or 1). Quantum computation, however, uses qubits (quantum bits), which can be in superpositions of states or the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously. Wow!

It's the computing equivalent of "having your cake and eating it too." You don't have to choose since both instances occur at the same time. Mind blowing possibilities? Yes. Do I want to learn more about the way computers are advancing? Yes! Check out a recent Harvard team's work on testing a quantum logic gate. Go Science!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

3D Printing - Creativity Meets Practicality

Unless you have been at the South Pole for the past couple of years, you have probably heard of 3D printing. Known as additive printing for many years, it has finally come into its own with the development of materials that can be extruded (squeezed out like tooth paste), sintered (heated), or spun (like cotton candy) from a heated nozzle. I'll stick to non-technical terms here. 
(You can click on the links for the science and engineering details.) There are nearly as many ideas for 3D printable objects as there are stars in the night sky. 

Well, okay, maybe not the stars over Montana, but definitely the number of stars over Los Angeles, Houston, or New York. 

Clever folks have 3D printed a happy couple for their wedding cake topper, printed a cast that is more dense where the break is (while allowing the rest of the casted area to breathe), printed high couture clothing for the big city catwalks, and even 3D printed food and furniture

If this is not the start of something big, I don't know what is! 

How does an advanced technology that can print so many different designs and meet such different needs work? I'll admit, until I attended the 3D Printer World Expo in Los Angeles in January of 2014, I was mystified as well. Is it like the Star Trek replicators? No, but sort of.  The products of 3D printing are dependent on the starting materials and are shaped by computer instructions.

Companies like Pixologic makers of an application called Z Brush offer CAD (computer assisted design) tutorials that allow the user to create an object. The computer object is converted into a STL file format. From this an object can be printed in plastic, metal, sugar, dough, etc. The specific material is based on the application and/or use. Cool! So unless you want a pizza made of wood for the coffee table, you would choose dough to print. (Of course food printers are not the same as industrial printers. You wouldn't want metal flecks as a topping.)

I can hardly wait to learn 3D printing software and try my hand at creating spare parts for my 20 year old Krups coffeemaker. Go science!